May 2013

Temples are the gymnasiums for the mind. – Chinmaya

Local gymnasiums can strengthen and shape only the physical body. But to revive a sick mind from all its negativities, we need a different gymnasium. The temples, the churches, the mosques and other such houses of God fulfil this need.

How do these places of worship help us regain our inner health? The answer is simple.

The moment the mind withdraws from the world and meditates upon God, it is cured of all its illness. Such a God-oriented mind gets filled to the brim with all divine virtues. The arrangements made inside these holy places of worship are such that we cannot but think of God.

Just as each room is designed to serve a particular purpose– bedroom for resting, drawing room for receiving guests, kitchen for cooking etc. – a house of worship is designed for meditation, worship and prayer.

In Hinduism, the outer rituals symbolize the eternal Vedantic messages of the Upanishads.

Every temple is designed similar to a human body. The Lord is seated in the garbha gruha (the sanctum sanctorum, the most sacred place) to indicate that the Lord resides in the heart of every being. Just as the temple gains its sanctity only due to the Lord residing within, the inert body gains its sentience and holiness only because of the presence of the Lord, the Consciousness principle. Normally, the sanctum sanctorum is kept dark, to indicate that the Lord cannot be seen as an object. During the aarati, the idol is seen in the light of the burning camphor, to point out that He can be known only as the subject, the witnessing light of Consciousness, represented by the light of the aarati. Hence we close our eyes during aarati, to seek Him within.

 The camphor burns, leaving no residue, spreading the fragrance everywhere. So too, we are advised to burn away our little egos in the fire of Self-knowledge. Then alone can we become a light unto others wafting the fragrance of universal love to one and all.

As we enter the temple, especially in South India, slippers are kept outside and the gents are asked to remove the upper clothing, to indicate that Lord’s darshan is possible only when we strip ourselves of our egocentric personalities.

The ringing of the bell and the blowing of the conch produce an auspicious sound, Om, the universal name of the Lord. They also help to drown the inauspicious, irrelevant noises and disturbances from outside, and serve as a reminder for the mind to stop all its extroverted preoccupations.

The Namaste posture (where the two palms are placed together in front of the chest) used while praying, indicates that the individual self and Supreme Self are ever together, which is intuitively felt in a purified heart.

The tilak (the sacred mark on the forehead) reminds us of the Lord throughout the day and thus protects us from all evil forces and wrong tendencies.

The food offered to the Lord is called Naivedyam. Everything comes from Him alone– be it the worldly wealth and prosperity or the abilities and talents in each one of us. What belongs to Him is offered to Him.

The very same food comes back after the worship as Prasaadam, which we partake of with cheerful acceptance, without complaining or criticizing, without wasting or rejecting. So too we are advised to maintain this attitude (Prasaada buddhi) of accepting everything that comes to our lives as His Prasaadam.

After offering the prayers, we do the Pradakshina (circumambulation) around the Lord by going around the sanctum sanctorum. The Lord is the centre, source and essence of our lives. Recognizing Him as our focal point, we are advised to go about doing our daily chores.

Also, Pradakshina is done clockwise, so that theLord is always on the right side (and not on the wrong side!). In India, the right side symbolizes dharma/auspiciousness, reminding us to walk the path of righteousness which alone leads to auspiciousness. Pradakshina is done three times or five times, to indicate that the Lord is beyond the three states of experience (waking, dream and deep sleep), and beyond the five sheaths (annamaya, praanamaya, manomaya, vijnaanamaya and aanandamayakoshaas). Again, Pradakshina is done to oneself as well by revolving around, to remind us that the supreme divinity within us is itself idolized as the Lord we worship outside.

By the means of Saashtaanga Pranaama (prostration), we express our meek surrender in obedience, acknowledging the greatness of the Omniscient Lord, by touching our head at His Holy Feet.

Fasting in Indian tradition is called Upavaasa (Upa=near the Lord, vaasa= to stay), so that the time and energy saved from procuring, preparing, cooking, eating and digesting food items can be utilized to think of God.

We find the usage of oil/ghee lamps inside every temple. The oil or ghee in the lamp symbolizes our vasanas or negative tendencies, and the wick- the ego. When lit by spiritual knowledge, the vasanas get slowly exhausted and finally the ego also perishes.

Before leaving the temple, we are supposed to sit in silence for a few minutes experiencing our oneness with Him. Soon the mind is soothed, recharged and revitalized, making it fit to take on the world with all vigour.

Such a strong mind – trained and toughened by the regular ‘work-outs’ in such holy gymnasiums, with its powerful bulging muscles of discrimination, devotion and dispassion – alone can wrestle with the monstrous-world-of-delusions, swirl it and hurl it beyond the frontiers of illusory non-existence.

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Posted in: Chintana

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